Monday was the start of a new era on Jeopardy! as the show aired its first episode taped after the death of Alex Trebek. The legendary Jeopardy! host died in November after a battle with pancreatic cancer, and the remaining episodes Trebek taped before his passing hit TV screens on Friday.
That episode, originally scheduled to air Christmas Day, featured a lovely tribute to Trebek over his tenure on the show. Monday saw a guest host, Jeopardy! GOAT Ken Jennings, take his spot behind the podium as the show looks for a new permanent host in the coming months. And though Jennings is far from the first person to host a Jeopardy! other than Trebek, he’s certainly filling big shoes in the coming weeks.
Ahead of his first episode airing in most markets, the show shared an interview with Jennings where he described his excitement for taking over the hosting duties. Jennings, who won a record-shattering 74 straight episodes and last January won $1 million against Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer in the show’s Greatest Of All Time Tournament, certainly knows his way around the soundstage. But when asked what’s different about hosting, he said that going behind the host podium made him realize just how good Trebek was at hosting for so long.
“The main thing I learned is just what an impressive, perfect job Alex Trebek did behind the desk here for 36, 37 years,” Jennings said. “And I thought I knew from over there.”
For decades, part of a contestant’s prep for competing on Jeopardy! was quite literally studying Trebek. The cadence he used when giving clues and the way he finished sentences were important factors in determining when it was the right time to ring in on the signaling device. Getting that timing down helped players not buzz in too early, which locks you out from buzzing in again, and in fierce competition, that fraction of a second can make all the difference.
But Jennings said there’s so much more to hosting than it appears from afar, and it took actually getting control of the game to realize just how great Trebek was at keeping things going.
“I thought I had studied the man and had understood just what a remarkable job he was doing keeping the game going, mastering the sense that he understood all the clues, because he did. Explaining it to the audience,” Jennings explained. “And I thought ‘ah, I understood it all.’ And when I had to do it I realized he was doing 10 things I wasn’t aware of for every one I saw. It’s a very demanding job and he was just the best.”
One thing we know for sure that Trebek — and now Jennings — has control over as Jeopardy! host is the tone that plays when time has run out to answer a question. That was all done via a button at the podium, as we learned late last year. It will certainly be interesting to see what feels different about Jeopardy! with another host manning that button and reading the clues, let alone if contestants start studying the way Jennings speaks in order to gain a new edge.